Real Talk with QBV #1: With Chris Gronkowski on his Playing Career, Entrepreneurship and Being a Dad
Updated: Feb 27
On Wednesday, June 24th, part of the QB Velocity team was able to catch up with Chris Gronkowski. Not only is he a former Fullback in the NFL, but he is also an entrepreneur with his own company "Ice Shaker", and a Father.
Chris was able to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with QB Velocity about the importance of work ethic not only on the field but most importantly in the classroom! That is right athletes, the classroom!
Did being one of five brothers give you a choice to play sports? What was it like growing up with 5 Brothers?
“Yeah, four brothers and I was the middle of the five, man it was insanity! Everyone kind of one upped it, right. It was all out brawls, all day everyday, we had no furniture in our house, just a couch, no coffee tables, there was nothing else, there was nothing, because everything turned into a weapon, or we were throwing each other through tables and that’s kinda how it went, they just wanted us to go outside, and get the energy out.
My Dad had a rule, if you guys have an issue, go outside and we could fight as much as we want to, we just couldn’t punch each other in the face and we couldn’t kick each other in the balls. That was the two rules, other than that, it was all day, go at it, and if you have a problem, go fix it and then we’re good to go.”
What drew you to Football? Gordie was the only Baseball Player, but why Football?
So originally we grew up playing every sport, my first sport was baseball then hockey. With hockey we loved it because, you could hit and you could also fight, you’re allowed to. You go into the penalty box for a few minutes but you were allowed to fight, and we were aggressive and we were always liking to hit each other.
What was the recruitment process like?
“Mine was not ordinary to say the least. Coming out of Buffalo it was hard. Maybe in New York which is a big state, I think there was 6 or 8 guys that went Division I in the entire state. Compare that to Florida which has a similar population had over 300 guys getting a Division I scholarship. Wasn't heavily recruited and I was mediocre at best, I was a two star maybe three star (recruit) coming out of High School. For me I had some (D-1) AA offers, and I was going Ivy League. University of Penn accepted me to their business school and this was a huge honor to get in that school, it is a lot of people’s dreams but for me I was going to come out of college 200k in debt.
So I was not super super excited about it. I was proud of getting in, but at the last minute I actually received a scholarship from the University of Maryland and it pretty much came down to grades. They were about to go on academic probation. They lost a lot of guys who were coming in because they could not pass the SAT’s or ACT’s and they reached out and said hey we have some open scholarships. If we bring you in are you going to have a 4.0 is basically what they were asking and my brother Dan was there and he was doing well and he had really good grades. So at the end of the day what got me D-1 was good grades. At that time I graded out on their charts as average at best. What really pushed me there was the fact they did not have to worry about me.
Being able to be smart in the classroom leads over to the ability to learn a playbook. You see a lot of guys get drafted and get there you have to learn the playbook because if you don't know you're gone you're worthless to the team and I saw a lot of very very talented players that just could not figure out the playbook because they were kind of handed everything from high school through college.
When you have a quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and but you run the play wrong are you wrong they're out wrong they don't want you in there anymore they immediately lose correct and you're not in the know anymore the quarterbacks have a lot of control especially someone like that they don't trust you they're gonna let the coaches know and they're not gonna throw to you anymore”
What was it like to transfer schools? Maryland to Arizona
“It was interesting, I kind of went into Maryland and it almost felt like they didn’t want me there, they never recruited me. The head coach was kind of old school, he was hard nosed. If I walked by on the hallway, he’d put his head down and look the other way and I would say hey coach and he wouldn’t even look at me. It really boiled down to the fact that my brother came on a visit and he told my Dad and my Brother that I would never play for him and it pretty much came down to the fact that I missed one practice due to injury. Besides that I was the strongest pound for pound person in the running back room.
I was working hard I was doing everything I should. It was kind of a letdown to hear that. So I had to make a tough choice and I decided to transfer. The game plan was that, Rob had every offer in the world at the time. So we wanted to play together because every time we did, we elevated each other to another level. When you have a brother, one that you could really count on and lean on but also brag to and also talk s*** to at the same time. It always brought us to another level and that is why I loved playing with him. We talked to each other, man we gotta go play somewhere together, because when we’re together it is a whole another level. We game planned it out that place ended up being Arizona. Where they said if I could come in and at least contribute on special teams they would let me keep my scholarship and I went there first and Rob came the next semester and sit out a year, but we were able to play together after that.” Being a Fullback, is it tough not getting the praise you deserve?
You have to have the right person, you have to be tough nose guy with leverage. A lot of teams are coming in, they try to use a tight end, a tight end doesn’t have that scheme. Some do a good job but most don’t they don’t have the leverage, they don’t have the toughness to go in there and take someone out. I think it’s a position that if you have the right guy there it definitely helps but at the same time I think it’s a position that you also have to contribute in other places, so if you want to make it,
I was lucky enough to get four credited seasons and really I made it because I was also able to play other things. I had to play all four special teams, it’s kinda like the third string tight end, you know if he can’t play special teams but I can play all of them they’re gonna keep a fullback over the third string tight end all day because I am contributing on four special teams and I am going to do a good job.
So the turning point was, I was at the gym, here in Texas, I was actually in my truck and I grabbed my bottle and there was just a ton of water from the sweat, it got all over my clothes, I'm walking in the gym and I’m like man I look like a bum already walking in and when I'm going to the gym I’m trying to look swole, look good.
I’m already looking dumb walking in, I was actually benching and every time I put my bottle down I was leaving those sweat rings on the ground and it finally hit me, I’m like man there’s so many insulated bottles on the market, why is there nothing that’s super easy to fill, super easy to clean, super easy to mix and will keep my drink cold and won’t absorb the odor like the plastic bottles does? Everything out there at the time kind of had like this little tiny top on it that you try to stick ice through and you need a funnel for it and then it is super hard to clean.
I finally got to the point where I’m like hey I just want one bottle that I could use all day everyday. I could bring it to the gym, bring it to work, use it by the pool, in an airplane. At that point I went home and I said, ‘man I am going to make the best bottle that I can for myself,’ and I was super passionate about it. Which was good because anything you start up is a lot harder than you think it’s going to be, no matter how great the idea is.
Mike I'm sure as a business owner, man you know all about it and how hard things really are even if you do have a following. Even if your family or brother or whatever it is, is famous. It doesn’t matter, this is something from the ground up. You know on the first day, I think I sold one bottle. The first week I sold I don’t know ten max. At that point it really hit me that you know I'm going to have to start building trust and I'm going to really have to start grinding to get this product out there and build trust so that people actually want to buy this product.”
How confident were you when you were invited to shark tank?
I was pretty confident going in, when you’re prepared you’re not that nervous. I was super lucky and fortunate that I had my four brothers in the back room and I screamed for them and they ran out of the back room and gave me a huge bump and it was game on at that point. So that really took a lot of pressure off as well and then playing a game of flip cup against the sharks and whooping them at flip cup, really lightened up the room as well.
After that point it was smooth sailing and it was good. I was probably about 20 minutes in and I still hadn’t gotten an offer and that was kind of when I was like oh man, maybe this product isn’t as cool as I thought it was and that was kind of the first time I kind of got a little bit nervous. Then Mr. Wonderful actually saved the man and threw the first offer out there and you know the rest of the sharks all ended up coming in as well.”
What is it like behind the scenes of Shark Tank?
We actually record for like an hour, on TV you see about eight minutes, so they cut it down literally they asked me everything about me in high school they knew everything about me in college, after football, they wanted to know every detail so they drilled me pretty hard, you don’t see that stuff because it’s kind of boring and they put all the good stuff on there, but the show really is what they say it is.
Everything is real, the exposure from it is real, the money they invest is real, it goes into your bank account, and what is real is the amount of work that comes after it. Your sales explode overnight, which they did, they probably did for a good 30 days and even after that it was still a nice little ride and then we had an update as well a year later.
Overnight it turned into a full business where I had to take care of everything from customer service, shipping, engraving, product creation, everything you could possibly think of ten times over night as well as sales, as awesome as it is, you’re not just sitting on a private island right afterwards you’re actually grinding and once that wave ends, you’re trying to figure out a way to keep that going and I think that is where a lot of people struggle we are just going on to year four now, it itches riding the whole way and our business is how entrepreneurship is everyday you just try to find a way to get better.
Being a dad
What have you learned as an athlete and businessman that you want to pass down to your children?
Always hard work and that’s kind of what we were raised on, we had to earn everything that we had, that was kind of my Dad’s rule and I think it was actually a rule at first because he didn’t have much to give, he worked two jobs for six years to get his company off the ground but even when he had the money, he refused to and it wasn’t because he didn’t want to.
A lot of kids get everything handed to them, they get the new car and they get whatever they want handed to them. They never learn the value of a dollar, never learn how to work for it and they really never respected it. For me what I want to teach my kids is how to earn what they have. To earn every single thing that they have they really deserve it, instead of just being handed it.
Will you have your sons play football?
If my kids come to me in high school and say hey I wanna play football, I can’t say no. The game teaches you so much more. It teaches you discipline, hard work and how to be a team player. That’s not just on the field, that’s business, that’s being an entrepreneur.
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